For a moment she can't remember the last time she let someone carry her.

And then she can.

The echo of gunshots, her partner's stuttered breathing, his arms tight around her as she struggled. And then his hands, his hands brushing the hair out of her eyes, his hands covering her mouth to muffle her sobs, his gentle hands cradling her body as she fought, fought, fought against him and finally stilled.

She tucks her face into the crook of his neck as he lifts her; she hides in the warmth of his body. Her ankles hook just over his tailbone, arms curled around his shoulders.

His chest is warm against hers, solid and firm beneath her soft curves, a quiet strength she realizes she has underestimated far too often. Effortlessly he carries her across his bedroom, not a groan of exertion passing his lips, not even a hesitation as he moves with her.

She glances down in time to see him nudging the bathroom door open with his foot, and when she looks up, he wears an expression of determination.

"Castle," she says softly, and he turns adoring eyes to her, his gaze warm and devoted, though shadows of desperation still linger in its stormy depths.

Wordlessly he presses his lips to her forehead, and she feels his breath ruffling her messy hair. He kicks the door shut behind them with a quiet thud, strides towards the shower.

She has only a brief moment to appreciate the understated elegance of the space, to envy the deep bathtub where she can imagine hours spent up to her neck in bubbles, reading one of his books. Or having one of his books read to her by the man himself as his fingers coast over her skin under the surface of the water.

Then he's pulling one arm away to open the shower door, his other arm still holding her tight to him. He doesn't even falter and she doesn't slip.

She lets her eyes flick around the enclosure, taking in the details: warm, stone-rough tiles, a wide rain shower head suspended above, a handheld shower head on a rail at one side, a bench.

It's the bench where he deposits her, his hands lingering for a moment against her sides before he stands and turns away. She watches the way he moves, the muscles of his forearm bunching and releasing as he fiddles with a dial on the wall, the strong lines of his back narrowing to a trim waist and flaring out again.

He turns, catches her watching him, and when she meets his eyes - feeling the heat of a blush coloring her cheeks - a smile is flirting with his lips. There's nothing smug, nothing proud about it. Just happiness.

"Quite the shower you have here," she says, breaking the silence.

Oh, and there's the smirk, the familiar blue-eyed twinkle reappearing. "You have no idea."

She shakes her head, lifts one hand from its spot at her side, beckons him toward her with a crooked finger. "Show me?"

He saunters toward her, shameless in his nudity, and she'd laugh if it weren't for the predatory look in his eyes.

Instead she sucks in a breath, holds it as he draws closer. It's getting hotter by the second, her skin warming with every step he takes toward her.

"Like the steam?" he asks when he stands in front of her, belly button at eye level, his fingers lifting to tuck a lock of hair behind her ear.


Oh. It's- yes, steam rises toward her, gentle wisps that curl around her skin.

She laughs, tips her head up to meet his eyes. "You have a steam shower?"

He nods, the corner of his mouth lifting as his hand trails down to cup her cheek. "I do."

Leaning forward, she presses into his touch, tilting to rest her forehead against his stomach at the same time. He hums. Rumbles, really, the vibrations of the sound shooting through her, making her belly clench.

She starts at his knee, skates her hand up the outside of his thigh, smoothing over the jut of his hip to grip his waist. He makes that noise again, almost a purr, but darker, more dangerous.

Lifting her eyes to his, she licks her lips. His gaze widens, blue eyes turning navy, steam curling at his neck.

"Kate," he rasps, his voice needy.

She presses her lips to his stomach in a wet kiss, lets her teeth trail across his skin, her tongue soothing the abrasions. He groans, fingers sliding from her cheek to tangle in her damp hair. One hand deserts the curve of his waist to trace the tapering vee of his obliques, her other hand searching out its counterpart, twining their fingers together.

He squeezes her hand tightly when she nips at his belly button, what sounds like a gasp echoing against the tile walls. His fingers card through her hair, a little roughly, tugging as her teeth find his tender skin once more.

And then his hand slides down, palming the back of her skull, the nape of her neck, the curve of her shoulder. His fingers clench against her muscles, and oh-

She hisses in pain, flinches away from the unintentional hurt. He draws back, steps back, hand leaving her skin, pulling away from her.

"Kate, I'm-" he begins, but she shakes her head, tugs on the hand she still cradles in her own.

"Just sore," she murmurs.

He cants toward her, hesitant, but then he cups her shoulder gingerly, presses her to turn. "Let me see?"

She allows him to move her, sliding around on the bench, baring her back to his his examination. He sucks in a breath, and she wonders just how bad it looks. Just how bad it really is.

Gentle fingertips prod at her spine, tracing her vertebrae one by one. She knows there must be bruises. She knows he's going to beat himself up for the way he slammed her against the door earlier, probably even the way he settled his weight over her in the bed.

But honestly, bruises had been the furthest thing from her mind at that point.

He's released her other hand now, his palm resting warm at her side, holding her steady. She sets her hand on top of his, keeps him there, pressing her elbow in against his forearm, the best embrace she can manage at this point.

He sinks to a knee behind her; she hears the slide of skin, the popping of a joint that signals his descent, feels the way his hold on her adjusts to suit his posture better.

Steam wafting up between them, she can feel the way he moves closer, his chest almost pressed to hers, as if he could shield her now the way he didn't - couldn't - before.

It's not his fault.


"I'm so sorry, Kate," he whispers, the words sinking in her chest, making her heavy. "I'm so sorry."

He sets his lip against her shoulder blade, gentle and loving. He wants to make it better, she knows, wants to kiss away the hurts.

She wants to let him.

But it doesn't go that way.

"Castle," she says again, turning in his grasp, keeping one hand clasped around his even as the other rises to cradle his jaw. "This is not your fault."

"If I'd been there," he begins, but she shakes her head.

"He knocked Esposito out. Former Special Forces Esposito."

"One more person, though..."

She lets her thumb cover the seam of his lips, silencing him. "He'd have killed you."

His eyes plead with her, but she's clear on this much. She doesn't want him anywhere near this guy, this case. She's seen the lengths to which he'll go to protect her. She's seen how he'll risk his life to keep her safe.

She loves him for it.

But she doesn't want him dead.

Leaning toward him, she touches her forehead to his, watches as his eyes fall shut.

"You want to help me?" she asks quietly.

He nods against her. She presses her lips against his, a tender caress, warm. She slides her thumb across his cheeks, waiting for him to open his eyes.

"Help me wash my hair?" she requests when his gaze is fixed on her again. "Hurts to reach up too far."

The hint of a smile appears on his face. He nods. "I can do that."

He leans away from her, stands up, and again she has the pleasure of watching him walk away. It's not the first time she's - for lack of a better word - ogled him. But she doesn't have to pretend anymore, doesn't have to hide the flare of desire when he turns back to her, two bottles tucked under his arm, one in his left hand, and the handheld shower head in his right.

He sets his burdens down on the bench next to her. She watches him for a moment, and he stares at her in return, and then she turns to face the other direction, leans back.

The enclosure is silent for a moment and then she hears the flip of a toggle and the sound of flowing water.

A few seconds later, a warm spray hits the back of her ears and then deft fingers begin massaging shampoo into her hair. She melts.

Richard Castle is washing her hair.

She's going to smell like him. With every toss of her hair, every turn of her head, she's going to catch the scent of his shampoo. She doesn't know if it's intentional, suspects it's not, suspects he's just trying to take care of her in the ways he knows how - but he's marking her, claiming her as his.

And oh, she is.

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